The first group of government-approved Ukrainian refugees seeking sanctuary in Newfoundland and Labrador landed in St. John’s.
The flight landed at St. John’s International Airport around 7:00 p.m. NT after taking off from the Polish city of Katowice. A total of 166 refugees were on board, including 55 children, according to Premier Andrew Furey, who welcomed them to the province after they disembarked.
The flight, chartered by the province’s immigration department, is part of rescue efforts first launched by the provincial government in March, which established a satellite office in Warsaw to help Ukrainians fleeing Russian attacks in resettle in the province.
The office worked with incoming Ukrainians to sort out details such as obtaining passports, visas and transportation.
What an honor to officially welcome this group of Ukrainians to Newfoundland and Labrador and to Canada. Thank you to everyone working hard to make this happen. 🇨🇦🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/jPijyTjaNU
The travelers were greeted by a crowd of cheering locals, who said they were grateful to be in Newfoundland and Labrador after a long journey.
“Joyful!” a Ukrainian exclaimed to reporters after clearing customs, adding that he even had a job in sight at a mine in Baie Verte.
“I had dreamed of coming to Canada for years, and I found a job on the first day. It’s just perfect, the local government has helped me so much… It’s just wonderful.”
Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne said Monday’s flight is the first government-chartered plane bringing Ukrainian refugees to Canada, although thousands have already landed on Canadian soil since the Russian invasion. in February.
Data from the Canada Border Services Agency reveals more than 19,000 arrivals of Ukrainians to Canada so far this year, as Ottawa faces a flood of asylum claims. The federal government has approved more than 90,000 applications for temporary visas since mid-March.
In St. John’s, Furey and Byrne were part of the Newfoundland and Labrador welcome party, alongside local employers and non-profit groups like the Association for New Canadians.
The provincial immigration minister previously told CBC News that some of those on the flight had already found work, starting their new jobs as early as Tuesday morning.
The crowd welcomes with open arms
Furey called Monday a proud day for the province, saying residents and officials are ready to support inbound travelers however they can.
“It has to be a safe place,” Furey said, speaking to CBC News at the airport just before the plane arrived.
“These are people who have lost their homes – many of their homes, as we have seen on TV, have been destroyed by missiles. They have no place to call home, and we want give them a home.”
Furey said it was too early to say how many more flights carrying inbound Ukrainians might land in the province, but said there are between 600 and 700 people who have logged on to the province’s Ukrainian helpline waiting for entry.
He said they are also talking with Ottawa to help with things like education and health care for newcomers, but added that it is more important to get refugees on the ground first to Newfoundland and Labrador.
The arrivals area of the airport was also filled with a welcoming crowd, eager to make the refugees feel at home in their new country.
Grade 8 student Julia Lampe held a poster created by students at St. Paul’s Junior High in St. John’s. She felt it was important to be there to let children and families coming from Ukraine know that they are not alone on their journey.
“We want Ukrainians to know that there are people who are aware of what is happening and who care about what is happening. Not just looking at it as if it were any another old TV show,” Lampe said.
Wayne Holloway brought his large Ukrainian flag to greet travelers.
“It’s up to us to make sure they feel welcome in Newfoundland. Let us do all we can. It’s up to us to make sure they feel welcome and hopefully we can encourage them to stay.